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South Slave

Fort Smith woman seeks apology for Parks Canada salt warning


An Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation woman told by Parks Canada to stop collecting salt from Wood Buffalo National Park for her business says she’ll ignore the warning.

Melissa Daniels had shared to Twitter a letter from Parks Canada that asked Daniels to stop using salt from the park’s salt flats in a bath blend sold by her company, Naidié Nezų.

In the letter, Natasha Moore – Wood Buffalo National Park’s warden – says collection of the salt for that purpose is “problematic” as removal of salt from the park without a permit is prohibited by federal regulations.

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“The local salt plains are a unique landscape with unique flora and fauna who happen to thrive there. This is worth protecting,” Moore wrote in a letter dated March 21, 2022.

Parks Canada has since said it regrets not attempting to address the issue “through dialogue” before the letter was sent.

Daniels opened her business in Fort Smith a little over two years ago, making the likes of skincare products, soaps and moisturizers informed, she said at the time, by the Dene concept of “medicine from the land.”

Reacting to the letter on Twitter, Daniels said Parks Canada was restricting Indigenous rights “to the point of extinguishment” and with “complete disregard to the overwhelming barriers Indigenous business owners already experience.”

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Quoting Parks Canada’s guiding principles, which include a commitment to strengthening Indigenous connections with the land and respecting Indigenous rights, Daniels said the federal agency was in fact “policing Indigenous peoples and implying we are responsible for over-harvesting.”

“Parks now saying they’re protecting our homelands from me, for my future generations, is a joke,” she wrote, “and only one example of the shit we’re forced to deal with.”

Regulations ‘can and do evolve’

By Wednesday, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam had declared the “threatening letter” from Parks Canada “yet another reminder that Canada is still in the very early days of reconciliation.”

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has called for an official apology for the historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples within Wood Buffalo National Park. The First Nation says its people were “removed from the heart of the area” to allow the park’s creation in 1922.

“We encourage Canadians to buy products made with illegal salt from Melissa Daniels,” Chief Adam wrote in Wednesday’s statement.

Contacted by Cabin Radio last week, Parks Canada said it was “committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

Tim Gauthier, a Fort Smith-based spokesperson for Parks Canada, wrote: “The traditional harvesting of salt by Indigenous peoples for personal use is allowed and is commonly practised in Wood Buffalo National Park.

“Commercial harvesting of salt in the national park, which is also a World Heritage Site, is not currently permitted. That said, Parks Canada’s preference is always to address such issues through dialogue with Indigenous partners, and we regret that was not our approach in this instance.”

Asked if Parks Canada would consider creating an exception for Daniels or finding another way for her gathering of salt to continue, Gauthier wrote that the agency’s policies and regulations “can and do evolve.” He said Parks Canada would refer the matter to Wood Buffalo National Park’s co-operative management committee, featuring representatives from 11 Indigenous governments, for consideration.

“We are confident that through respectful engagement and discussion, we can find a resolution that meets the needs of local Indigenous peoples while also preserving the ecological integrity of Wood Buffalo National Park for future generations,” Gauthier wrote.

‘Performative reconciliation’

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Daniels said she rejected Parks Canada’s expression of contrition.

She said she would continue to collect salt from the park on the grounds that her rights superseded the regulations quoted by Parks Canada in its letter.

“They failed to mention anything about the fact I’m an Indigenous woman from this area. It was really quite disheartening that they failed to see that. I do have this right,” Daniels said.

According to Daniels, Parks Canada has had no direct communication with her since she shared the letter to Twitter last week.

“The only communication I and my business have had with Parks Canada, even prior to this letter, was a phone call asking me to make gift sets for them about a month and a half ago. I didn’t respond to that. I’m not in the business of doing business with colonial institutions that displaced our people,” she said.

“My experience is one small example of the injustice that has been perpetrated against our people for generations. Since the park’s creation, we have been violently driven from our land and seen our ancestral and treaty rights to the land restricted and denied.

“Their response is performative reconciliation. It’s something they write on paper to make people feel good, to make this issue go away. What I’d like to see is an apology and a recognition of my right to harvest salt.”

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